Teague, Belinelli come through in the clutch for Bulls

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Teague, Belinelli come through in the clutch for Bulls

Who would you attribute the following typical Tom Thibodeau postgame press conference description to?

Staying ready to play, going out there, knowing what your job is, doing your job, getting it done, listed the Bulls head coach after his teams 83-82 win Saturday night over the Nets at the United Center. Providing whatever the team needed, playing well within the unit and they played well on both sides of the ball, played well defensively and offensively.

The most likely suspects are Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. But while that duo played well, it wasnt them, nor was it the power-forward tandem of Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.

With the injured starting backcourt of veterans Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton sidelined, it wasnt them either. Instead, it was a 19-year-old who some expected to log more minutes in the D-League than the NBA this season (Marquis Teague) and a free-agent acquisition that seemed so out of sync early in the campaign that it appeared he might be nailed to the bench.

Marco Belinellis late-game heroics he scored 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, with none bigger than his driving, surprisingly uncontested layup with 22.1 seconds remaining, as well as two free throws to seal the deal might be the headline, but as a six-year veteran, as fans in New Orleans, Toronto and Golden State can attest, hes capable of putting up big numbers, although the native of Italy hasnt done it on a consistent basis for his entire career.

But with his performance in the stead of the injured Hamilton, that might be changing, now that he firmly understands that defense is the way to Thibodeaus heart.

Everybody knows if you play defense, you stay on the court, so everybody wants to play defense, wants to be aggressive. When I was in New Orleans with Monty Williams, I think we played great defense, too. But right now, its like a championship team., he said afterwards. We want to be good, we want to do something big, so if you want to do something big, you need to play defense first.

Those are lofty aspirations in a season that began with Derrick Rose working his way back from ACL surgery, but after playing for a series of non-playoff contenders, you cant blame the guy. The smile on his face in the Bulls locker room, however, illustrated how much he starved to be on a competitive, winning squad.

Thats a great feeling. It was amazing. Im happy for me, but Im happy for everybody, he explained. It was a team win. We played good defense, we played good offense and the fans here are amazing, so we won the game for us and for our fans.

That was a good shot because I think Jo made a good screen for me, first of all, and the spacing on the court was good. I just tried to be aggressiveI was wide open to the basket, so those were good points, but I think most important was our defense. We played great defense in the last three, four minutes, so thats why we won the game, the candid Belinelli continued, before admitting to being wary of Brooklyns Gerald Wallace, who previously blocked two dunks from the weak side earlier in the evening. I was scared about that, to be honest. I was thinking to dunk a little bit, but I saw Gerald Wallace over there was coming, so I thought to float it for a layup with the left. It went in, so it was good.

Now, in the case of Teague, his play in clutch situations is close to becoming a pattern, as he was productive in crunch-time minutes during a November home loss to Boston, excelled as Thibodeau rode him down the stretch in Wednesdays road victory over Philadelphia in a hostile environment and continued to display that prodigal calmness in Saturdays contest.

That same serene demeanor he has except on the court, where the soft-spoken 19-year-old directs traffic firmly on most occasions is evident after games, too.

Its exciting. Its fun. It lets you know your coach has confidence in you and you want to go out there, and do whatever you can, whatever it takes to win, he said after the win, in which he contributed modest numbers of eight points and two assists, but only committed one turnover, again played big minutes in the fourth quarter and did a more than serviceable job defensively against Brooklyn All-Star point guard Deron Williams. My confidence is where its been from Day 1. Im always confident in my game, confident in my abilities, so I stayed the same, whether I play 20 minutes or zero minutes.

I was just trying to contain Williams, just keep him in front of me. Its hard to keep a player like that from scoring. I just wanted to make it as tough on him as possible, contest his shots, continued the Indianapolis native and point guard for last seasons University of Kentucky title team. I was just trying to take whatever the defense gave me, creating for one of my teammates or knock down the shot for myself and I had few silly fouls that I shouldnt have made. Ive got to do better and learn from it.

I see these guys his teammates every day in practice, I know what they like to do, I know their strengths and where to give them ball where theyre going to be most effective, he went on to say. It felt good. It was a lot of energy in the building. It just helped us, motivated us to play even harder than we were. It just felt good to get the win.

Besides the aforementioned questionable shooting foul on Williams They called it, so I guess its a foul, he said about the play and not taking a wide-open jumper as the shot clock ran down (he was looking for Luol Deng, who was tying his shoe at the time), its hard to find much fault with how he played, especially considering the competition.

The same goes for Belinelli, making the Bulls recent success even more remarkable, given that both players didnt look like theyd be big reasons for the team overcoming Roses extended absence.

But thats how the Bulls have prospered, not just as of late, but C.J. Watson being back in town was a helpful reminder over the past two seasons. It just shows how much Belinelli and Teague have not only bought in, but fit into the teams beating-the-odds, survival-at-all-costs, all-hands-on-deck mentality, a way of life here at the United Center, fostered at the Berto Center and that travels well to wherever the Bulls play, as evidenced by their early-season record, which is surprising to some, but not to anybody wearing that uniform.

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The leading candidate to be the team’s starting center fielder, Charlie Tilson has been temporarily shut down after he suffered a stress reaction in his right foot.

Tilson suffered the injury while running in a workout on Friday and had an MRI performed on Saturday. A team official said Tilson’s injury isn’t as severe as a fracture but he’d be sidelined for 10 days, at which point he’d be re-evaluated. Acquired last July, the White Sox rookie was already rehabbing from a torn left hamstring that ended his 2016 season early.

The White Sox acquired the New Trier High School product from the St. Louis Cardinals last July in exchange for left-hander Zach Duke. Tilson was immediately called up as the White Sox intended to try him out in center field the rest of the season. But Tilson suffered a season-ending injury in his major league debut while tracking down a fly ball and had surgery several days later.

Tilson had made good progress in his rehab and was a full participant in a hitter’s camp at Camelback Ranch last month. Earlier this week, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tilson was a top candidate to take over as the club’s starting center fielder if he was healthy.

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is putting up video-game numbers in the Ontario Hockey League.

He ranks first among all players with 49 goals and 104 points, and has done so in only 50 games. That's an average of more than two points per game.

DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' second-round draft pick (No. 39 overall) in 2015 thanks to the Andrew Shaw trade, became the Erie Otters' all-time leading goal scorer earlier this year and on Saturday, he tied Brad Boyes for second on the team's all-time points list with 309. The only player he's chasing now is teammate Dylan Strome, who has 329 and counting.

Connor McDavid, who ranks fourth in Otters history with 285 points, was there for DeBrincat's rookie season when he scored 51 goals and 50 assists. The 20-year-old Oilers captain very much still pays attention to the Otters, and isn't surprised by the heightened success of his former teammate.

"He’s having another amazing season," McDavid said. "No surprise there."

It was easy to suggest DeBrincat's numbers were inflated because he benefited from having a player like McDavid centering his line. But McDavid insists that wasn't the case.

"Honestly, we helped each other," McDavid said. "It was not a one-way street by any means. He finds a way to score goals. My year they were saying, 'Oh, he was just playing with me.' Then the other year, he’s playing with (Strome). He’s playing with Stromer again. To score 50 three seasons in a row is absolutely incredible no matter who you’re playing with or what you’re doing. Absolute credit to him."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The numbers back it up, too.

DeBrincat's points per game average has increased in each of the last three seasons: 1.53, 1.68 and 2.08, a significant jump from his second to third season. It's especially impressive when you factor in that he's scored only eight of his 49 goals on the power play this year after combining for 34 goals on the man advantage in his first two. 

Initially, McDavid was a little skeptical when informed that newly-signed winger DeBrincat, who's now listed as 5-7, 170 pounds, would be his new linemate. It didn't take long for that to change.

"He kind of just came out of nowhere," McDavid said. "I remember us signing (him) and looking, and it said he was 5-2, 140 pounds, whatever. The GM at the time, Sherry Bassin, said 'I found you a new winger.' I’m like, ‘That guy is going to play with me?’ Sure enough, he comes in and we kind of have that chemistry right away.

"He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do."

Size is surely to be the biggest concern for DeBrincat at the NHL level, but players such as Cam Atkinson (5-7), Johnny Gaudreau (5-8) and Mats Zuccarello (5-7) are proving that you can be among the league's best despite being undersized. And the game is evolving into more of an up-tempo style where teams built on speed is becoming the new norm.

DeBrincat's willingness to stick his nose into dirty areas combined with his offensively-gifted ability is a big reason why McDavid believes his former linemate will succeed at the highest level.

"I think well," McDavid said when asked how DeBrincat's game will translate into the NHL. "He’s just got such a drive and such a nose for the net that I don’t think he’s going to be stopped. He takes on guys much bigger. I don’t really know how he does it.

"Especially when he was a rookie and I was playing with him, he’s going into scrums against guys that are 6-5, and you’re on the ice thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to help you?’ He definitely picks his fights. He’s a special person and special player."